By Jonas Terrado
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. — TNT KaTropa vs San Miguel
(San Miguel leads series 3-2)
San Miguel Beer orchestrated a stunning comeback from 16 points down early in the fourth quarter to edge TNT KaTropa, 99-94, and take a 3-2 lead in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Import Chris McCullough scored 35 points, including a go-ahead basket down the stretch, while Christian Standhardinger’s pesky defending on Terrence Jones also played a pivotal role in the Beermen moving one win from capturing a second straight championship.
SMB tries to take its first crack at the crown on Friday at the Big Dome. Coach Leo Austria will try to steer the Beermen to their eighth title since his tenure that began in 2015.
“In this situation, the players’ composure is always intact as long as there are minutes left so they know that we can catch up. And that’s what happened,” said Austria.
The victory, fashioned out before a crowd of over 10,000, looked like a pipe dream for SMB after TNT gained an 85-69 lead with 10:39 to go in the fourth on Roger Pogoy’s three from the left elbow.
At that time, Jones had been carrying the load for TNT with help from Troy Rosario, Jayson Castro and Pogoy.
Pogoy and Jones celebrated after the former’s rainbow shot as it appeared that winning Game 5 was already moot and academic for TNT.
But SMB responded with eight straight points with McCullough leading the way to set up the fightback. Austria then decided to insert Standhardinger over June Mar Fajardo and force Jones into mistakes.
The gambit paid off as Jones had a hard time trying to make scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates while SMB slowly narrowed the gap.
TNT was ahead 94-93 going into the final minute when Standhardinger forced Jones to lose the ball while appearing to be fishing for a foul, giving SMB the chance to move in front for the first time since the first half.
McCullough drove past Don Trollano from the left side after a timeout and powered his way against Jones for the layup that made it 95-94 for the Beermen.
Standhardinger came through once again on the ensuing play, forcing Jones deeper from the left side and missed a one-hander. McCullough was fouled after SMB regained possession, knocking down two free throws for a 97-94 lead.
TNT, with no timeouts left, went for a tie, but Rosario missed a wide-open three from the left elbow. Ross got the rebound and was fouled by Jones where he converted two charities that settled the final count.
Terrence Romeo scored 22 points as he took the scoring cudgels from Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, who again struggled with a combined 5-of-16 shooting for 11 points. Fajardo added 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Jones finished with 35 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and four blocks but looked gassed during SMB’s fightback.
TNT’s defeat put to waste the efforts of Rosario (16 points and eight rebounds), Castro (18 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Pogoy (12 points on four triples).
SAN MIGUEL 99 — McCullough 35, Romeo 22, Fajardo 16, Pessumal 9, Ross 7, Cabagnot 4, Standhardinger 4, Santos 2.
TNT KATROPA 94 — Jones 35, Castro 18, Rosario 16, Pogoy 12, Trollano 7, D. Semerad 6, Taha 0, Reyes 0, Heruela 0, Magat 0.
Quarters: 22-28; 45-49; 69-80; 99-94.